The newly released report of the Canadian military's Surgeon-General on suicide in the Armed Forces makes for chilling reading.
Chilling because of the clinical dispassion with which the numbers are presented.
To wit, here are the key findings, in arduously bureaucratic military language:
- The number of regular-force male suicides was not statistically different than that expected based on Canadian male suicide rates;
- Between 1995 and 2014, there were no statistically significant increases in suicide rates;
- Recent findings suggest a trend towards an elevated suicide rate ratio in regular-force males with a history of deployment;
- Regular-force males under Army command were at significantly increased risk of suicide relative to regular-force males under non-Army commands;
- Regular-force males under Army command in the combat arms trades had statistically significantly higher suicide rates than non-combat arms regular-force males;
- In contrast to previous results, history of deployment may be emerging as a risk factor for suicide in the CAF;
- Results support the theory of a multifactorial causal pathway to suicide rather than a direct link between single risk factors (e.g. PTSD or deployment) and suicide.
Here, by contrast, is what the data say in plain language:
- There is a silent epidemic of male suicide in Canadian society. Things are no better in the military;
- The suicide rate in the Canadian Forces has been high a long time, and it’s getting worse;
- Military personnel who are deployed on overseas missions have a suicide rate that’s 48 per cent higher than those who are not deployed;
- Soldiers in the Army have a suicide rate that is twice the rate of those serving in the Navy and Air Force;
- Soldiers in combat roles have a significantly higher suicide rate than those in non-combat roles – 30 per 100,000 against 18 per 100,000;
- Being deployed on an overseas mission should be considered a risk factor for suicide;
- While deployment and post-traumatic stress disorder are factors, there are a host of reasons military personnel kill themselves.
It is cold comfort that the suicide rate among males in the Canadian Forces is the same as among men in the general Canadian population.
In fact, it's disturbing. Our soldiers are supposed to be carefully screened and monitored, in peak condition, physically and mentally. Presumably, we don't just send anyone off to war, or on peacekeeping missions.
But we do know that a significant number come back wounded – and more appear to be wounded mentally than physically.
The other reason the "it's no worse in the military than anywhere else" argument doesn't hold any water is that, tragically, there's a silent epidemic of male suicide.
About 3,000 men take their lives each year in Canada, and there is every indication that number is an underestimate because a lot of men die "accidental" deaths in nebulous circumstances. The Surgeon-General's report, again, addresses this issue by saying there is no indication suicides by military personnel are hushed up any more than among civilians.
(We should note here that the focus is on men because women are not included in the Canadian Forces report, as they are still a tiny percentage of military personnel and the suicide numbers are too small to allow statistical analysis. Men kill themselves at six times the rate that women do.)
The other blandishment in the report is the notion that there is "no statistically significant increase" in suicides. What this means is that, in any given five-year period, roughly the same number of military personnel kill themselves.
How is that, in any way, a measure of success? It's actually proof of continued failure.
We are talking about people here – 225 men who have taken their lives between 1995 and 2014.
You can say: That's not very many, given that there are roughly 57,000 men in the Canadian Forces.
But it is. It's the equivalent of three giant Hercules aircraft full of combat soldiers crashing and burning.
Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan is right to demand answers and solutions – not just superficially soothing statistics – from military brass.
What he must do next, on this Remembrance Day, is recognize that military suicide deaths are just as tragic, and just as deserving of recognition and remembrance, as combat deaths.
That is the surest way of bringing the issue of military suicide out of the shadows.
Are you a member of a military family with a similar story? E-mail Renata D'Aliesio at email@example.com as she continues to bring attention to this important issue.